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Building sport on the trails of Naughton

It was just under a decade ago that Sudbury welcomed the province north to the nickel capital of the world, site of the 2010 Ontario Summer Games.

And while the turfed field at the James Jerome Sports Complex and the refurbished track at Laurentian University might stand as the most highly visible legacies of the Games, they are certainly not alone.

For all intents and purposes, the Walden Mountain Bike Club (WMBC) was created largely as a by-product of the event, simultaneously targetting the desire to try and qualify young athletes for the Ontario Summer Games, but also to provide a volunteer base which could assist in supporting the hosting of the races in Naughton in August of 2010.

Since that time, the site has been host not only to Ontario Cup weekends and national scale competitions that would bring acclaimed mountain biking Olympians to the area, but also to a slew of outings aimed largely at the general fitness desire of the average Sudburian.

Last Wednesday was just such an evening, as a diverse gathering of mountain bike enthusiasts congregated for the Bush Pig Open – Race 3, the penultimate assembling of this group, with the season-ender set for September 10th.

“I'm not too familiar where the term (Bush Pig) comes from, I'm pretty sure it's fairly old, but the Bush Pig races are low key racing events,” noted 31 year old Timmins native Eric Lalande. “It doesn't cost much to enter and there's no prize for winning, other than bragging rights. It's kind of just a fun race, so you compete with your friends if you bring them out.”

Having grown up with an interest in the sport dating back to his days as a youth in a part of the province that is even more northern Ontario than his current home, Lalande is certainly among those who are grateful for the work of long-time WMBC lead Rob St Marseille, trail maintenance guru Rusty Hopper, and all those who lend a helping hand to their efforts.

“I started when I was a kid, but kind of took a hiatus after college and stuff,” said Lalande. “I came back to it when I moved to Sudbury, which was about four years ago. I had moved out of the province and there wasn't really much there, and that's part of the reason that I stopped. I had heard there were a lot of good trails here.”

And though he has been involved only for a short time, Lalande is encouraged by what he sees. “It's a big community of mountain bikers here,” he said. “The community kind of drives itself. The more people that are involved, the more people join in. The bigger the community gets, the more trails we get. It just kind of builds itself.”

First-time racer Nick Cavallin understands that viewpoint, not at all new to the concept of taking a bike off-road, even if not necessarily in a competitive setting, prior to this week. “I grew up by the Laurentian Conservation Area trails,” said the 29-year old, who was spurred on by friend and fellow rider Dante Mazza to join in the festivities in Naughton.

“As a kid, if you had a mountain bike, you would just go out and try the trails. Dante had me out biking here on the weekend and he mentioned that he was doing the race, so I figured that I might as well join him.”

With nothing more than the hope of finishing the race as a goal at the start line, the young mechanical engineer with Hatch gradually fell victim to his surroundings. “We ran the course on the weekend, so you figure it's going to be the same. I did the first leg pretty casually, but after that, you pick up the pace, and then you're gassed for air, you're sucking wind.”

“It's different, for sure, but it's a lot of fun.”

A lot of family fun, when it comes to 12 year old Caden Sutton, younger brother Tanner, and mom and dad, also on hand for the races. Ironically, it was an interest in motocross, one that the boys shared with Garson neighbours and successful motocross racers Everett and Elliot McDonald, that would spur the move to non-motorized biking.

“We started this year – it was kind of an alternative to motocross,” explained Caden. “You have to get used to using the bottom of your leg muscles, instead of your arms and balance. It's more all three, instead of just two. So it's your arms, your legs and your core strength to keep yourself going.”

And at various points in the race, that exhilarating thrill of the ride is no different than the back trails of Garson where the lads motored about. “It does feel similar,” said Sutton. “When you're going downhill, it feels just as fast. It feels like you're on a dirt bike there, until you start hitting the bumps. Then you remember you are back in mountain biking.”

Having partaken in many a leisurely MTB ride, Sutton conceded that race day carries with it a different set of parameters, even if it's still a fun race day, first and foremost. “When you are just out on a ride, it's sort of relaxed,” he said. “In a race, you've got to try and be ahead of your best friend, got to try and be ahead of your parents, ahead of everyone that you know.”

A feat that can only be accomplished by understanding the code of behaviour that mountain bike racers accept as their own. “On single track trails, you either wait for a bigger part to pass, or you wait until the double track parts,” said Sutton. “When you're on the double track parts, you call out either “left” or “right”, and the person knows to divert to the opposite side so that you can pass.”

“It's an etiquette.”

An etiquette that exists in these parts at least partially due to the work of hundreds who understand that the benefits of attracting a large scale sporting event to Sudbury can run well beyond the days in which thousands of athletes, coaches, officials and fans are actually in town.

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